Spaceflight Insider

Martian crater provides reminder of Apollo 16 mission

The Martian crater named 'Orion Crater'

NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover passed near this small, relatively fresh Martian crater in April 2017, during the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 16 mission to the Moon. (Click to enlarge) Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

During the 45th anniversary of Apollo 16‘s voyage to the Moon, NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover drove by a relatively young Martian crater, providing a connection between the two missions. The feature was informally named “Orion Crater” by the Opportunity mission team, in honor of the Apollo 16 lunar module – Orion.

Orion was the name of the Lunar Module that carried astronauts John Young and Charles Duke to and from their lunar site, on the Descartes Highlands in 1972. Orion also happens to be the name of NASA’s newest crew-rated spaceship which the space agency is developing to send crews on missions beyond-Earth orbit.

Opportunity’s Panoramic Camera (PanCam) took images of Orion Crater on April 26, 2017. The crater is about 90 feet (27 meters) wide and estimated to be no older than 10 million years.

“It turns out that Orion Crater is almost exactly the same size as Plum Crater on the Moon, which John Young and Charles Duke explored on their first of three moonwalks taken while investigating the lunar surface using their lunar rover,” said Opportunity science-team member and SpaceFlight Insider contributor Jim Rice, of the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona.

Rice sent the Pancam mosaic image of Orion Crater to Apollo 16 Lunar Module Pilot Charles Duke, to which the Apollo astronaut responded with much enthusiasm.

“This is fantastic. What a great job! I wish I could be standing on the rim of Orion like I was standing on the rim of Plum Crater 45 years ago,” Duke said.

Apollo 16 astronaut Charles Duke standing on the rim of Plum crater, which is 131 feet (40 meters) in diameter and about 33 feet (10 meters) deep. Image Credit: NASA

Apollo 16 astronaut Charles Duke standing on the rim of Plum crater, which is 131 feet (40 meters) in diameter and about 33 feet (10 meters) deep. Photo Credit: NASA



Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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